Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)

[16/11/14 Updated with Research and Light links & info]

I was recently contacted about a staffie taken by the dog warden, presumed aggressive, and marked for death as a result (see their FB page Save Ruby for more info). While I have a fair understanding – and disagreement with – BSL it made me realise how little information I had at my fingertips to help the family involved. After hunting round some familiar haunts, sharing and querying I came up with a fairly good collection of contacts and information.

There are plenty of web and facebook sites that cover BSL very well already, so I’m not going to repeat everything here. What I am going to do is provide a summary, with a focus on organisations who can provide information, activism and help around BSL issues. I hope you find it useful!

What is breed-specific legislation?

In simple terms, BSL is a statute or regulation that is directed toward one or more specific breeds of dogs. A more detailed and informative definition is given by the US org NCRC (National Canine Research Council):

Breed-specific legislation (BSL), also referred to as breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), is a law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of one or more of those breeds. The most drastic form of BSL is a complete ban; but BSL also includes any laws or governmental regulations that impose separate requirements or limitations, including but not limited to: mandatory spay-neuter, mandatory muzzling, liability insurance requirements, special licensing and additional fees, mandatory microchipping or tattoos, owner / walker age requirements, property posting requirements, confinement and leash requirements, breed-specific pet limits, sale or transfer notification requirements, restrictions on access to certain public spaces with the dog [e.g.: public parks, school grounds], required town-issued items [e.g.: fluorescent collar; vest], training requirements, requirement that photos of the dog and/or owner be kept on town file.

BSL, in all of its forms, results in the destruction of many pet dogs.

Irish BSL

From Dept of Rural & Community Development’s Dog Control information page

The Control of Dogs Regulations 1998 (link is external)place controls on 10 breeds of dogs namely the American Pit Bull Terrier; English Bull Terrier; Staffordshire Bull Terrier; Bull Mastiff; Doberman Pinscher; German Shepherd (Alsatian); Rhodesian Ridgeback; Rottweiler; Japanese Akita; Japanese Tosa and to every dog of the type commonly known as a Ban Dog (or Bandog).The controls, which must be observed when the dog is in a public place, require that these dogs, or strains and crosses thereof, must be kept on a strong short lead [only up to 2 metres long] by a person over 16 years of age who is capable of controlling them.  The dog/s must be securely muzzled too.  Furthermore, the Control of Dogs Act 1986 (link is external)gives specific powers to the courts to order that a dog, which the court considers dangerous, must be kept under proper control or be destroyed.

So, the legislation restricts the 10 breeds of dogs listed above, and ‘every other strain or cross of every breed or type of dog described’ AND every dog that just looks like it might be one of those breeds. The legislation also specifically excludes the same breeds living in particular circumstances, eg. kept by the Garda Síochána, guide dogs and rescue dogs.

You’ll find the specific legislation here:

Why is BSL Wrong?

Unmuzzle Ireland‘s summary of BSL, its problems and solutions, says it better than I ever could.

Check their What & How page for the full story – I’m just including the briefest of summaries here:

 

  • SafetyOver 40 years of scientific research has found no difference between dog breeds with respect to likelihood to bite, aggression or potential inflicted injury.
  • Animal Welfare: Banned breeds are often needlessly killed, detained and generally discriminated against. An average of ten dogs are killed every day in Ireland – how many of them are restricted breeds?
  • Financial: Through implementing the Control of Dogs Act, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government are running at a loss of €1,582,563.66 per year – and spending €5,361,920.91 of tax payer’s money in the process.
  • Training/Socialisation: Restricted breeds are hampered from correct socialisation and training due to the restrictions. Unnecessary muzzling of a dog has a dramatic impact on its ability to socialise.
  • Dog Breed Identification: Unless each dog warden is conducting DNA tests on each dog they wish to identify, it is virtually impossible to correctly identify the dog breed. (This is the clincher for me – see more info below.)
  • Roles in Society: A number of the breeds legislated against in Ireland are hailed worldwide as the most effective therapy dogs in the world.
  • Tourism: Ireland is frequently reviewed as being among one of the worst countries in the world to travel to with a canine companion and, as a result, the Irish economy is losing millions each year through lost canine tourism.

Linda S. Weiss’s excellent study on BSL in the States concludes ‘BSL is not an effective means of regulating canine behavior in communities’ and offers realistic alternatives:

Breed-specific legislation is not an effective approach for regulating dogs’ behavior in communities. Although such bans might comfort individuals who have had unpleasant experiences with particular breeds or have heard of attacks by specific dog breeds in the media, the bans do not act to effectively regulate the behavior of any breed or of dogs and their owners collectively. The bans carry with them too much potential for arbitrary or improper enforcement:  inaccurate breed identification by officials, difficulty enforcing breed bans against mixed-breed dogs, animal control, and court system overload, and the potential for not identifying a genuinely ‘dangerous dog’ as such because it doesn’t fall into the specified breed categories. Unfortunately, large breeds of dogs such as Dobermans, German Shepherd Dogs, and Pit Bulls are popularly believed to be dangerous, and therefore may be judged more severely by judges than smaller, ‘cuddlier’ breeds.

Government officials at the local and state level should focus on the problem itself – dangerous canine behavior – and concentrate their efforts on dogs’ and owners’ conduct. In doing so, officials can maintain a safe community for both dog owners and other residents.

One final point on the inequity of BSL for dogs is raised by Jeff Theman in his article, No Bull: This Law Is More Dangerous Than Pit Bulls. In highlighting the origins of BSL in the States, he points out that it may originally have been intended as a way to discriminate against human animals:

The law was used as a tool by law enforcement to legally harass individuals with dogs who appeared to be ‘pit bull’ in an insidious attempt to search for other crimes being broken, and continue to oppress a large subset of people.

Research

National Canine Research Council (NCRC)

All these issues are also illustrated by another excellent organisation, the NCRC – while US-based, their information is relevant worldwide. As their name would suggest, they provide information and research results on all matters canine. In their own words:

The National Canine Research Council is committed to preserving the human-canine bond. We publish, underwrite, and reprint accurate, documented, reliable research to promote a better understanding of our relationship with dogs. We make grants to universities, independent research organizations and independent scholars. We also conduct our own research on contemporary issues that impact the human-canine bond, including the dynamics of popular attitudes toward dogs and canine aggression; public health reporting on dog bites; public policy concerning companion animals;and media reporting on dogs.

Check out their pages for all you need to know about general BSL.

Dog Breed Identification

Identifying dog breed without valid papers or DNA tests is so fallable I feel it’s worth highlighting here. And the NCRC have wonderful illustrations as to the inherent problems. Check out their posters – I’ve linked the images to the full-size pdfs on their page. And the links to these and two other similar posters – one for retreiver mixes, one for GSDs – is included in the Related Links list at the bottom of this article.

Pit Bull ID in Shelters

 

A study into breed identification in shelters – very clearly explained and the results clearly illustrated.

One of the conclusions:

Focusing on other attributes of dogs such as personality, behavior, and history instead of breed may help predict safety of individual dogs towards people and other animals.

Breed ID Pit Bull

 

Each of the dogs in this poster were given a blood-based DNA test to determine mix of breeds. Only three of them are ‘pit bull’ mixes.

Can you tell which three?

 

 

So, visual identification of restricted breeds is so unreliable it’s meaningless. Even if BSL made any sense at all (which it doesn’t), this factor alone should discredit it entirely. How can you validate discriminating against a breed when you can’t even identify it?

More Research

The majority of the dogs involved in the attacks were male dogs between 2-6 years old, over 10kg in body weight and were among the popular breeds of Collies, Cocker/Springer Spaniels, Terrier breeds, Jack Russell Terriers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers,” said O’Sullivan. “And the biting incidents were equally likely to occur in rural and urban/suburban areas.

This suggests that it is not appropriate to evaluate the risk of aggressive behaviour in an individual dog using characteristics such as breed type.

The authors concluded that most dog bite-related fatalities were characterized by coincident, preventable, policy-relevant factors; the dog’s breed was not one of these.

The Solutions

Unmuzzle Ireland recommends the most successful model of pet legislation in the world – the Community Model for Responsible Pet Ownership: Calgary, Alberta. Based on five simple principles, this model enables cats, dogs, their owners and neighbours to live together and promote responsible pet ownership:

  1. License and provide permanent identification for your companions.
  2. Spay or neuter companion animals.
  3. Provide training, socialisation, proper diet and medical care for your companions.
  4. Do not allow your companions to become a threat or nuisance in the community.
  5. Procure your companions ethically and from a credible source.

And don’t forget to send breed-specific legislation to the doghouse!

What You Can Do

  • Be Aware, Care and Share – check out the links and information in this article; get your facts right; share information on your social media pages and in your real life.
  • Let me know of any organisations I’ve missed, or relevant information you think I should be including.
  • Sign Unmuzzle Ireland’s petition to Repeal and replace the Control of Dogs Act Regulations 1998 with better legislation.
  • Join Unmuzzle Ireland’s I Am The Majority Campaign: get a photo of yourself with your message, and with your restricted breed dog if you share your home with one (or more!), and send it to Unmuzzle Ireland – all the details are in the link.
  • Check out and Like Save Ruby‘s FB page – give them all the support you can – they’ll need it.

Other Useful Organisations

I’ve already introduced you to the best Irish BSL org, Unmuzzle Ireland, and my favourite international BSL org, NCRC. Here’s a few others …

BSL on Facebook

UK Orgs

These orgs help with BSL issues for guardians in the UK, but they may be able to help Irish guardians too. It’s worth checking them out, but keep in mind their legislation is different from ours. Some of it’s worse, believe it or not.

General Animal Welfare Listings

These sites have comprehensive listings of all kinds of animal welfare organisations in Ireland, not just those focussing on BSL.

And Finally

 I thought I’d end with some inspiring (and fun!) stories and images:

And it seems appropriate to end with some serious issues of trust around one of these ‘dangerous’ breeds – from Jason Mann and PitbullLovers.com

The Top Reasons Why You Can’t Trust Vicious Pit Bulls

Written By Jason Mann

Note: You may not use this article without permission from Jason Mann.

10. They will steal your spot on the couch while you are up getting a soda.

9. They will take the treat you give them and bury in the back yard like a paranoid crack head hiding their stash.

8. They will jump on your bed with muddy feet. Making you do laundry…again

7. They will lick visitors with an uncontrolled passion only they understand.

6. They will cause children to smile.

5. They will make you feel horrible for not walking them by looking at you with deep sad eyes.

4. They will look at you like you committed a crime against them if you don’t let them lick your ice cream bowl.

3. They will cause wide spread happiness in large group settings.

2. They will crack you up by shaking their butts so hard you think they are going to snap in half.

And the number one reason why you can’t trust vicious Pit Bulls…

1. They will steal your heart like a thief in the night, showing you complete and pure love that only a Pit Bull can show.

Related Links

Posted in Animal Welfare Issues, Breeds & Breeding, Must Reads, What You Can Do.

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